Meaning of ABLE in English


I. ˈābəl adjective

( abler -b(ə)lə(r) ; ablest -b(ə)lə̇st)

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin habilis easily managed, apt, skillful, from habēre to have, hold — more at habit


a. : possessed of needed powers (as intelligence or strength) or of needed resources (as means or influence) to accomplish an objective

able to solve a problem

able to buy a house

b. : designed, constructed, or naturally endowed with the power to perform a task or achieve an end

machines able to lift 10 tons

owls able to see in the dark

c. : having freedom from restriction or obligation or from conditions preventing an action

American women are able to vote

we were able to meet her at noon

d. : constituted or situated so as to be susceptible or readily subjected to some action or treatment

a shoe able to be repaired

a hill able to be climbed


a. obsolete : having physical strength : robust

b. now dialect : well-to-do , rich

3. dialect : fit to cope with — usually used with for

able for four helpings of dessert

4. : marked by intelligence, knowledge, skill, or competence

an able and rapacious tyrant — H.O.Taylor

an able , moving, and fascinating portrait — B.D.Wolfe

5. : legally qualified : possessed of legal competence

able to inherit property


capable , competent , qualified : placed after the noun modified, able is likely to indicate only the power, strength, skill, or resources needed for an indicated action

some day I would be like one of themselves, able to kill animals and catch fish — W.H.Hudson

Placed before the noun modified, it may suggest a combination of superior qualities, especially as demonstrated in practice

Cleveland was an able leader, honest, courageous … a fine exponent of Manchester liberalism — Allan Nevins & H.S.Commager

a priest … an able one, by all means, not only devoted, but resourceful and intelligent — Willa Cather

capable is commonly interchangeable with able in this sense. It is more likely than able to be used in situations involving possibilities and potentialities

democracy alone has constructed an unlimited civilization capable of infinite progress — F.D.Roosevelt

a being … more capable of feeling than even the most gifted of common men — Aldous Huxley

Often it suggests powers of adjustment, adaptability, or resourcefulness adequate for treating satisfactorily whatever matter is under consideration

it was impossible even to recall the house of mourning without a grateful memory of Louisa's capable dealing with funerals — Ellen Glasgow

only people who valued machines more than men were capable under these conditions of governing men to their profit and advantage — Lewis Mumford

competent suggests complete fitness for adequate performance

Tolstoy and Turgenev were quite competent in Russian, though they learned English, French, and German in infancy — Bertrand Russell

Sometimes the word connotes special professional or technical training

the associated workers must be competent scholars in language and palaeography — F.N.Robinson

Sometimes competent is used to suggest adequacy but to deny outstanding superiority and hence may be derogatory

the difference between a great dancer and a merely competent dancer is in the vital flame, that impersonal and … inhuman force which transpires between each of the great dancer's movements — T.S.Eliot

they were all competent practical mechanics, but Gay was an inspired mechanic — John Steinbeck

qualified suggests either adequate experience and knowledge, satisfactory special training, or formal certification as being especially trained

Poky … was … my guide … no mortal could be better qualified; his native country was not large, and he knew every inch of it — Herman Melville

being a qualified doctor, she knew all the facts of life — Upton Sinclair

II. transitive verb

( -ed/-ing/-s )

Etymology: Middle English ablen, from able, adjective

1. obsolete : to make capable : enable , strengthen

2. obsolete : to vouch for

III. ābəl

Usage: usually capitalized

— a communications code word for the letter a

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.